This has sent Nats fans — and the Nats organization — for a roller coaster ride they were not expecting after last season’s first trip to the playoffs. Thus Tuesday night’s walk-off sacrifice fly to beat the Mets was greeted by some as the turning point in the season. Players mobbed the infield, leaping about as if they each had two healthy hamstrings. Problem solved! Huzzah!
Then came the next night, a 10-1 loss to the Mets, and there was no infield cavorting. It was clear that Steve Lombardozzi’s hard-fought at-bat and game-winner 24 hours previously had not created a sea change in the Nationals. And it was unreasonable to expect that it could. Instead, it was just business as usual for the Nats: win one, lose one. Don’t hit. Hope for good starting pitching. (Tuesday they got it from Jordan Zimmermann; Wednesday they didn’t get it from Dan Haren.)
Part of the Nats’ struggles can be attributed to injuries, of course. They didn’t have this many a year ago, certainly. But the baseball gods giveth, and the baseball gods taketh away Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Now Dr. James Andrews has been summoned. The parallels between Harper and Robert Griffin III are growing eerier by the minute. (You know, Lincoln’s secretary was Kennedy; Kennedy’s secretary was Lincoln.)
The truth is, the Nats’ issues go far deeper than anything an MRI will find. To put it bluntly, they are playing poorly many nights. “This is a simple game,” said a wise man once upon a time. “You throw the ball. You catch the ball. You hit the ball. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains.” Tuesday night they won. Wednesday night they lost. Thursday night it rained. I mean, “Bull Durham” has all the answers.
But for the Nationals, the game has been anything but simple this season. After rolling through 2012 with joy and verve, 2013 has been, at times, more of a painful slog. Entering Friday night’s games, the Nats were 28th out of 30 teams in batting average (.230), 30th in on-base percentage (.287), 27th in slugging percentage (.372), 29th in runs scored. Their fielding percentage was 28th, and they had committed the second-most errors in baseball.
Their team ERA is a very respectable sixth (3.63), which should have them in better position in the win column. Before Friday’s game, their starters had a 3.41 ERA and if you drop Dan Haren — tempting — it falls to 2.93. The bullpen has been more spotty. Much more spotty. The ERA for starting pitching is 3.41; for the relievers it’s 4.13.